Freelance tools


With the holidays upon us and my birthday soon aproaching :D , im trying to put together a list of things that i may need for freelance lighting and stage managing and such.
so here is my question to you.

what would be awesome for a freelancer to own?
Like should i buy myself a bunch of gobos and gels and such?
what are some general "fun tools" that i should get that will really come in handy while working?

thanks guys, your fantastic!
well tool wise, I would get a wrench, flashlight, Gamchek Jr. and gam lampchek, gerber, and a pin splitter. those are the tools i bring to theatre on a regular basis.
Voltage tracer: Just touch the lamp cord with it and it tells you whether there's power. Size of a bulky marker.

Cordless drill: These things, fitted with one of those reversible Makita devices fro drilling pilot holes and driving the screw, are a godsend. I like DeWalts, but there was a long discussion on the subject elsewhere on the forums.

Otherwise, just about everything I can think of was mentioned above. You might want to get a high-powered flashlight like a Streamlight Scorpion, or any Surefire, in addition to the ubiquitous Maglite.

Look at Tools for Stagecraft and see what strikes your fancy as something you would find useful.
If you have a laptop a cd with the newest software and extra profiles for most boards along with manuels for everything. Im not kidding on this one, spend a couple nights just going to differnt sites martin, HES, robe, vari light, and downloading instructions. but thats not really a gift unless you get some Cd-rs as a present. A nice pair of golves and shoes make any day better.
What do you mean by "freelance lighting"? Designer, programmer, electrician...

Buying gel and gobo's - not sure why you would do this, these are consumables spec'ed in the design for the show and bought out of the show's budget...

Gamcheck ... go drop $100 on a Fluke multimeter, something like a #111 or #112 and a good pair of leads. It will do alot more for you than a gam check (including everything the gamchek will do). Good luck plugging the stagepin connector on the gam check into the outlet under your desk when nothing will turn on. ;)

A voltage probe is a nice tool to have. Hold it up to a line and it lights up if there's current in the line. They're cheap, Fluke makes one for probably $20, various other folks have them in the same range. I saw a Craftsman in the tool aisle at Sears for $10 yesterday.

Gerber, I assume this tool that everybody around here is talking about is this - Personally I've never failed to apply a utility knife to most cutting situations. Sure is a heck of a lot cheaper.

Mini mag is a nice toy to have around, one actually showed up in my stocking today. One of my side hobbies is scuba diving. I own a couple of flashlights designed for underwater use, night diving, general illumination, etc. Thy've got halogen lamps in them, very very bright. In general, I carry the little oen around. The problem with these is they blow batteries. If you've got a dive shop in your area (check the yellowpages), I'd recommend going and checking out what they've got in the small flashlights range (these things come in small, medium, and large). Get a couple sets of rechargeable batteries and a charger, you're going to be going through alot of them. I own the PCa model on this page -

it's also nice to have something to put all your toys in - a toolbag. Everybody and their brother has something to add to this market, so shop around for quality. Having a bag, pouch, belt, etc gives you a place to put all your tools, trinkets, etc and keep track of them. Plus, they're always in the same place. No more wondering which catwalk you left your linesman's pliers on - you'll get into the habit of stuffing them into the same pocket everytime pretty quickly. I have a big bag/belt from Custom Leathercraft. It zips up, has umpteen pouches and pockets, and it has a shoulder strap, carrying handle, and a place to put a utility belt through. I probably spent $30 on it. All the tools I usually use are in it somewhere...always have what I need.

So, I think my major point here is don't go blowing a lot of money on all the specialty toys. They're not worth it IMHO. A good multimeter will get you a lot further in the long run than a gam check. I'd expect a Fluke to hold up much better too. Same with other "cool" trinkets - Dr DMX, leatherman, etc.

If you elaborate a bit more on the job description you're describing, I and others here problably can be a bit more specific on handy stuff to have around.
I don't see how a leatherman or a gerber are a "cool trinket" i use those more than i use any other tool on stage, it's always at my hip and easy to use. Unlike going to find a tool bag, and digging for a screwdriver or a pair of pliers, i have them on my body ready to use.
dont forget your swatchbooks. i would also have a few different product catalogs and maybe a few design books. you can always use graph paper, pencils, pens, and a sharpie or few. and always have a few cds too listen too.
Don't want to start another debate upon the use of multi tools but let me say this, for day-in, day-out use, I think that you are better off using decent tools that are designed to do one job and do it well. Now I am not saying the multi-tools are not decent. I am just saying that a good screwdriver is going to function much better that one found on a multi tool. Same for pliers, side cutters etc.

And whilst I have built several testers for various applications, having a good digital multimeter should be high on your list of items. I only built the testers I have because they suit my equipment and can make life easier.

I have a (lockable) briefcase sized tool case that was custom made. It has a tool insert in the lid that contains the following:

1 set of 1000V insulated screwdrivers (2x and 4-)
Side cutters (1 large pair, 1 small pair)
2x 6" Adjustable wrenches
2x Artery forceps
3/8" drive socket driver
3/8" drive ratchet
Solder sucker
Voltage probe
1 set of micro screwdrivers (2x and 2-)

In the base of the tool case I have:

Braymen true RMS digital multimeter
Power outlet checker with RCD trigger
Butane powered soldering iron, Butane and solder
Custom built lighting bar tester
A pencil case with sharpies, small note pad, pens and lanyard
LED torch
Plastic compartment box with batteries, spare XLR connectors, triacs, opto-couplers, alligator clip test leads, and a plastic trimpot adjuster
Another plastic container that contains spare fuses for all my equipment.
3/8" drive socket set
A pair of Ironclad general utility gloves and a pair of mach 5 gloves
At least 2 rolls of insulation tape (Gaffers tape is in a different road case)

I run a mobile DJ and lighting company, so I am in a different venue and sometimes different configuration almost every show. Sometimes, things work loose or even break due to bumping around in the van. So I do have to do some repairs on location. For a start out kit, here is my recommendation:

A good quality set of screwdrivers
At least 2 good quality adjustable wrenches
The best DMM that you can afford
A good pair of side cutters and pliers
Torch – it needs to suit your needs and if possible, be held in your mouth.
(other accessories will be determined by your application)

Later on you may wish to invest in some nut drivers in the sizes that you commonly use. I don't take a cordless to any shows as I don't do sets and I don't find them all that much better on other equipment.

Also find something to keep them (secure) in. I know too many people who leave their tools lying around. Engrave them and if you don’t know how to, get it done somewhere. Remember, tools are only expensive if you loose them.
There's a couple other toolbox threads around here, so I'd suggest visiting them, as well.

I'm in the same boat you are. I do stuff for different people. Every time I start working with a new crew, I walk in acting inexperienced, to see what they know, and leave all my tools in the car, except my gloves. I find that if I walk in with my toolbox (which is very big and has everything from tools to food to medical supplies, to magazines and dvds) they think I'm a real hotshot and tend to treat me poorly. Rather, I act like I don't know anything, let them show me their ways, and then slowly start in with what I know. Once I earn their trust, I'll open up.

Working on a crew is as much about respect and trust as anything else. The last thing you want is to be a pariah.
I agree that a good set of tools is much better than just using a multi-pliers, however, this does not mean they are not good to have. I will always use real tools when on the ground, but I carry a multi-tool at all times in case I need it for something unexpected where it would be impractical to bring a tool set or go get one, such as up a 20' ladder, or up a hand crank genie. Then, you have what you need to do the job quick. At least in theory. I just got my Gerber Legend 800 yesterday. ;)
So i just took a trip to my local Target.
And as i browsed the tool aisle, i came upon this cool little thang.
It is a 6" adjustable wrench.
but its also a multi-tool.
it has a whole bunch of random tools in the handle that fold out.
i thought it was pretty cool.
i didnt buy it though.
the fact that it wasnt an actual brand so it had no warranty worried me, plus it had no where to attach a lead.
and thats just dangerous.
so i lobbied against it.
but if anyone knows where i can get a really nice one of those, let me know.
that would be pretty sweet to have one less thing in my back pocket!

bdesmond said:
So, I think my major point here is don't go blowing a lot of money on all the specialty toys. They're not worth it IMHO. A good multimeter will get you a lot further in the long run than a gam check. I'd expect a Fluke to hold up much better too. Same with other "cool" trinkets - Dr DMX, leatherman, etc.

Not quite, once you get out into the world of actually doing this day in and day out. I'd correct that to read:

...don't go blowing a lot of money on all the specialty toys to start out..

That said, when you are doing this seriously and have the money, they are very useful, and guys who do this for a living carry these things for a reason.

Can I suss out a circuit that's giving me trouble or a lamp giving me issues with a meter? Sure. But when you're short on time to do it before a show, or sometimes even during a show, it's a heck of a lot quicker to plug the Gam Chek in and see what the deal is.

Same with my audio cables; I can very easily check out a cable with the continuity tester on my meter. That said, when it's heat of the moment, I break out my Rat Sniffer, because it'll let me do all three conductors at once, and tell me at once not only if they're miswired, but how. When I can get to both ends of the cable, I use my Swizz Army tester, because it will tell me the same thing that would take ten passes with a continuity tester to figure out, not to mention having to stop each time to write down any incorrect results. And you can't check an intermittent cable with a meter unless you have a third hand!

Is a multi-tool the best tool for any job? Nope. But when I'm loading in a show and the clock is ticking (both to showtime and to when the local union guys go into overtime!), and suddenly a chain motor stops working, am I going to go to break open the toolbox and pull out a screwdriver to take the connector apart, or am I going to whip out the Gerber and get it fixed quick?

As for a Dr. DMX or "The Wife", or any of those sort of gadgets, those aren't just cable meters. If you're just working with a basic rig, they're overkill, but if you're on a touring show with intelligent lights and multiple DMX universes, they become very useful indeed.

So, while they may be overkill for somebody just starting out in high school, eventually they do serve a very, very valuable purpose beyond just being cool toys.

Heck, I carry three different devices for measuring AC power--a multimeter, an Ecos Accu-Test 2 (which is basically one of those circuit analyzers you can buy in a Lowe's or Home Depot on steroids), and soon a multi-voltmeter of my own design once all the parts get here to build it. And I'm a sound guy!
I agree with the extra tools such as the Gam Check and various other specilty tools in needs. But the question still would be initally of the overall value when they have the time to do and more important learn from the longer test on the multi-meter, what will be a cover all for most all instances.

For lighting, a Gam Check is nice, but can be done without. A multi-meter if not a clamp style amp meter that will do both is a necessity. Yes a in-line DMX-ter or some form of it in testing a in-line signal, much less telling you what's transmitted or allowing you to splice in and program the fixture line in question manually while on a ladder is very useful. Still, it's a question of what's first, the screw driver or the screw gun as more important as an initial purchase.

For me, sure, buy your Leathermen version that most fits your anticipated need for it, buy a flash light and C-Wrentch as it's more variable to all instances than a speed or Jeasus Wrench. Buy a good pair of gloves and a lanyard to your wrench and stop there after the cheap Radio shack calculator type multi-meter.

You will grow out of such a thing and these tools once you get to the point you are trusted as Andy no doubt is to fix the problems you figure out. Still, it's what can be afforded in order of importance.

Next you will buy your Tool Shop or Stanley crap screw drivers and other tools in saving money but having them. One might invest into the Gam check and a few other select economical or one time only purchases that will be ever so useful. This only after finding a need for them however, and having the need to use them.

After that one will decide theft ratio verses quality tools in what they purchase such as Klien tools, and Fluke Meters, and say various mini testers and controllers before out of budget.

I still hold that when I wear my tool belt - not much any more since I don't do shows any longer, it's a Klien 9" Linesmens with 16' tape measure on one side. Bucket Buddie tool case having a silver and black Sharpee, Klien Electrician's Scizzors, Fluke AC-1 voltage sniffer, Mini-Mag Light, Super Leatherman, Klien 8" Insulated C-Wrench, folding utility knife and company provied Nextell.

That gets me thru most initial instances on a ladder. After that, I get off the ladder and visit the road box. It's a visit to my over 3/4 ton weighing road box that has to stuff to fix the problem in tools bought throught the years in skipping going out to eat for lunch and saving my money for stuff I now get paid extra to have in being able to fix anything. Eight versions of drill alone, and only the highest in quality on just about everything. Large investment over time. First still I started with the basics above.
Exactly :) Or, to put it more briefly than either of us has, to start out, you just need the basics. When you need the "fancier" tools, you won't have to ask the question!

As for the Fluke thing, it depends. I don't play electrician much anymore, so right now my day-to-day multimeter is a cheap pen style one from Radio Shack, which is great for the type of small gadgets I normally have to deal with as a sound guy. Eventually I'm going to track down a more durable pen style than the Rat Shack one, but when I need the big clamp-on Fluke, I yell for the electrician ;o)

Day to day, I have a Gerber 800, three dual-tip Sharpies, and a MiniMag retrofitted with a Terralux MiniStar 2 LED kit and an end pushbutton, and a small sound gadget called a Sound Plug. As an electrician, on the rare occasions these days I do that, just swap the Sound Plug for a C-wrench, and that and the multimeter will get me through most days. The toolbox stays packed away unless something goes drastically wrong :eek:)

The LED retrofit can be found at
(I'm not sure if they sell direct or not, but they'll link to dealers if they don't). Tell them I sent ya...I promised them a review of the unit a while ago (I do freelance product reviews), but got the contract for this tour as a last minute replacement and haven't had time to get my review site up and running and post the review. That said, my review is very positive.

The other unit I've tested is the Opalec NewBeam, which is similar (dif is that the Opalec is slightly dimmer, but lasts longer on a aset of batteries and has a low battery indicator, while the Terralux is brighter and remains focusable at the cost of a few hours of battery). Opalec makes one with blue LEDs special for theatre technicians that you can get from RoseBrand, see their site at for dealers who carry the standard white model. My review of this appeared in an issue of TD&T a year or two ago.

The pushbutton is the Kroll tailcap switch, a small rubber button that can be used both as momentary and latching:

A company called Ram Instrument also makes a tailcap switch for the MiniMag, but I cannot recommend it, mostly because the momentary is wired backwards and turns the light off instead of on! Eek! Well, that and that one of the two I ordered was broken when I received it. Otherwise I liked the design, it is a slightly inset switch in a metal knurled knob rather than an exposed rubber switch (the rubber switch is more waterproof, I believe, however).

I completely agree that these toys, trinkets as I call them have their use when they can be applied. Given ost folks around here, the OP I'm sure have small setups, are just learning, etc (me too), having expensive toys isn't going to get you very far in the long run. Find somebody who knows what they're doing to mentor you and build a gam check type device. You'll definetely learn alot more about how the stuff works.

As far as hand tools go I'd rather make the investment in a good set of tools, e.g. Klein or even Craftsman now. They'll last forever. Not sure about Klein, but, the Craftsman lifetime warranty does work. I have tools from Craftsman that have been around for a couple generations now - they'll be around for at least another, and I did trade one in at Sears one day as it had seen its day.

I just don't like multitools. The ones I've used always felt kind of cheap compared to a good pair of pliers, or just holding a utility knife. Maybe its the way the things fit in my hand or something. I haul the tools I usually use around in a toolbelt, up ladders, whereever. I can usually take care of whatever needs doing with them.
I happened to have my bag sitting next to my desk tongiht, so, here's all the crap I lug around, plus a few other things.


There's a set of big screw drivers, a set of smaller ones, pair of big slip joint pliers, little speed wrench, forceps, churchkey, pair of 16 - 28 awg strippers, side cutters with strip grooves, lineman's pliers that have a generic crimper as well, utility knife, channel locks, small bolt cutter, long nose pliers, measuring tape, Fluke DMM, along with some other junk. Flashlight , pens, pencil, notepad hidden in there as well.

The hex wrench and large Crescent, along with the CATV crimpers don't travel around with me, was working on something this evening that I needed them.

I've got to pick up some blue tool dip as now the new pair of pliers i added today are red too - screws my color oriented thinking, espceially since the pair they replaced were blue.

This is my generic fix most anything kit that I schlepp around. All sorts of other tools are in drawers, I have to use some degree foresight if I need them - e.g. a special crimper, wrench, etc. I don't haul around a 1 ton work case like some folks around here. ;)

This is nothing I could imagine a designer or even a stage manager needing to haul around. Some of it is handy if you're hanging & focusing lights. For me, it's my general fix-it kit ... no particular purpose unless I want to load tools for a certain job in there.

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